These posts were written in 2016 for My Trending Stories. The originals can be found here.
No one likes to be ill. Unless you are a sadist. The idea of someone who can deal with anything; work assignments, family crisis, girl troubles, running out of ice cream, and then being taken out by a simple organism, is something that one could equate to David fighting Goliath with stones. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.
However, imagine being autistic and dealing with illness. In previous entries, I have discussed how I do tend to view the world in a slightly more exaggerated way than most. When I am ill, there is little exception. I’ve actually developed a chest infection, during the recent cold snap that has brought the flu season forward. Chest infections are not nice for anyone, but when you are autistic, and you’re dealing with illnesses that you’ve never had before, it can be hard, and it can be scary. It certainly scared me when I first felt the symptoms. I couldn’t sleep, because I had something in the back of my throat, my chest felt like it was being punched from the inside, my body was more sensitive to the cold and the heat. It really isn’t nice.
What is worse about it is that I didn’t know what was afflicting me. I first thought I had heartburn, and thought ‘I’ll just drink some water and eat slower next time’ to myself. But it continued, and after typing in what the symptoms were on a long, restless night, I got my answer. Having an illness and knowing what it is can be bad for an autistic person, but it is very scary if you do not know what is wrong. Especially if you have anxiety. Your mind jumps to the worst case scenario; usually ‘I am dying’. I did genuinely believe I was having a heart attack for a moment. Of course, I wasn’t.
Another aspect that makes it hard is describing your symptoms to people. Family and doctors in particular. It’s part of that fear of the unknown. If I tell my Mum, whose a nurse, and she worries about me, that makes me worried. Really worried. Mind you, my mum is lovely, and dealing with very sick people (she’s a district nurse) she tells me to get a grip, most of the time. But that worry is still there. That prospect of giving someone a combination of symptoms that could or could not unlock a locker full of scary things is quite worrying.
And going back to my David and Goliath comparison, part of you is in denial, when you’re autistic. You want to prove to people ‘Yes, I am autistic, but I can get through this on my own. No one else needs to worry, but me’. You want to keep that illusion alive that you’re a strong man, and you are a giant. No, you’re human, and you have trouble communicating with people. No one is going to know anything if you keep it private, and then you can’t get help.
I’ve had a fair share of illnesses in my time. In my almost 2 decades on earth, I have had this chest infection, I have had the stomach flu, I have had Swine Flu (And that was a fun 3 weeks), and all the usual childhood bugs and viruses, like the cold and Chicken Pox. All of them were scarier than when I had a tooth pulled out when I was 15, and both my trips to the hospital. And one of those was an operation at the age of 13. This chest infection was scarier than that, and I am 6 years older now. I think the difference between hospital and an illness is that when I had my operation, I was getting something fixed. When you’re ill, you’re feeling off for days, maybe a week, and it just…won’t…stop. I have had near panic attacks while having a virus, while I was only crying when I went in for the operation. It’s a funny world.
For my autistic readers, I will say this. Tell people you’re sick. Feeling sick and no one knowing is a train crash. If you’re off, or you’ve been off for a day or two, tell someone. For non autistic people, if someone looks off, keep an eye on them. Just don’t go up to them and say ‘you look pale’. That’s not very helpful. It might be accurate, but it isn’t helpful. If someone is off, or are complaining about something, get them some water, sit them down, and keep them calm. It will help out a lot.